In Law Man, Shon talks about a few of our visits and what that was like for him. For me, visiting Shon in prison was always bittersweet.
Sometimes I would visit for two or three days and stay in a hotel in Pekin, Illinois, in between visiting hours. Other times I would leave Nebraska at 4:00am to make the 7-8 hour drive to Pekin, visit for eight hours, and then return to Nebraska by 4:00am the following morning. For every visit, the drive to prison was filled with a mix of excitement and anxiety, whereas the drive home was always a mix of gratitude and heart-wrenching sadness.
The pre-visit anxiety was a result of never knowing if I would actually get to see Shon after making the long journey. There was always the possibility that I would be turned away upon arrival due to a “lock-down” resulting from some outbreak of violence. I would always stop at a rest area just before arriving and change into clothes that were permissible according to the visitation rules. I would triple check all of the rules to make certain I would not make a single mistake, resulting in a denial of visitation.
Upon entering the building, I had to fill out paperwork that had to match exactly the information on my driver’s license and all of the information submitted for Shon’s approved visitors’ file. I would hand my paper in along with my photo i.d. and leave my purse in a locker. I was only allowed to bring in a quart size Ziploc bag filled with quarters and dollar bills for the vending machines. After I was done checking in, I would immediately use the restroom in order to scrub my hands thoroughly for fear that I may have used a “dirty” ink pen or touched something that had drug residue on it from another visitor. I would sweat every time they would check my hands for drug residue because I heard many stories of innocent people being denied visitation from picking up residue somewhere in the waiting area. Once cleared, I would sit and wait until I was called to go in. Sometimes the wait was quite long as they could only walk a small number of people through security to the visiting room at one time. Once in the visitation room, Shon and I were allowed a brief embrace and then could choose to sit wherever there were open seats.
The visitation room had cameras everywhere so guards could watch our every move. The chairs and tables were plastic. The only food and drink allowed was that which could be purchased from the vending machines. If Shon needed something to eat or drink, I would have to go get it for him as the prisoners were never allowed in the vending area. They had a few games available, but Shon and I always preferred to just sit together and enjoy conversation. We usually got away with holding hands, even though touching is strictly forbidden. In fact, on one very distressing visit, I was forced to leave early because I had my hand on Shon’s knee. Hours would pass by in what seemed like minutes. We rarely ran out of things to talk about, but in moments of silence, it was comforting for both of us to just be in each other’s presence. We would have our picture taken together on each visit so that we would have those moments to reminisce about in between visits.
After hugging Shon and giving him a kiss goodbye, I was never able to hold back the tears. I would contain myself as best I could until I got out to my car and then the gut-wrenching sobbing would set in. I was always filled with gratitude for our visit and joy for the moments we were blessed to spend together. But leaving there knowing we were separated by a considerable amount of time and distance, and leaving him knowing the conditions in which he lived, was utterly heartbreaking.
I never could have imagined it then, but I’m so grateful now, that the reward of persisting through the years with sporadic visits, letters, phone calls, and a deep, abiding friendship would result in marriage, in which every day, no matter where we are, we are always “home” with each other.